Last Rites for Indian Dead

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English 1A

“Last Rites for Indian Dead” Susan Shown Harjo in her essay titled, “Last Rites for Indian Dead” found in Chapter 9 of our textbook, argues that it is wrong to remove the remains of Native Americans for purposes of archeology, medicine or fortune-hunting. She would like to see national legislation passed to protect the burial remains of Native Americans. I found her argument very compelling. I agree with her for both personal and professional reasons: on a personal level because I believe that all human life is worthy of reverential treatment, and professionally from new insights I have reached in my studies as a Professor of English Literature.

First of all, even though I am not a Native American, I can sympathize with the feelings of desecration someone must feel upon learning that their relatives have been ‘dug up’ with no way of stopping the excavation. I know that I would not like to have my own family’s graves dug up, even in the name of science or research. I cannot think of a reason, short of requiring DNA evidence to solve a murder, which could justify that. I have always experienced feelings of peace and tranquility during my wanderings in public cemeteries. It gives me comfort to be able to visit my loved ones’ graves, to find the plots well-cared for with no evidence of tampering or ill treatment. How horrible it would be to visit my great grandparents’ graveside only to discover they had been dug up – because we are distant relatives of John Sutter-- and historians felt they might have something to learn from their graves.

I am not sure that the discovery of clues leading to information on culture and history could ever offer sufficient evidence to justify grave tampering. We do not allow that for our famous Americans. For example, I have traveled to Mount Vernon and Monticello and visited the homes and gravesites of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson,...
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